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by Nancy E Christensen/Renejade Dobermans

Drives are present in all dogs, though at different levels. Rooted in instinct, yet different from it, drives are generally more breed-specific.

For instance instincts are response behaviors like digging, leg lifting, chewing, etc; in general, instincts relate to survival or reproductive behaviors. Drives, on the other hand, are more specific, such as fight drive in a guard dog, retrieve drive in a hunting dog and such.

Unlike instincts, drives can be manipulated to some extent. As long as a drive is present, it can be built up or lowered. Sometimes a dog will not have enough of a certain drive to show “useful” or “recognizable” drive.

It is “instinct,” therefore, that makes a dog bark at a stranger approaching his territory and “fight drive” that controls how persistent he is in defending that territory. Instinct makes him chase the ball (or the cat), drive levels control how soon he gives up, and in the case of the ball, if he returns with it.

There are many drives — most relate to one another. The most commonly referred to are the ones we manipulate the most in training, being:

  • Food Drive
  • Play Drive
  • Prey Drive
  • Fight Drive
  • Pack Drive
  • Defence Drive

All drives are associated with each other. With food drive (the desire to get food, not usually related to actual hunger), it is easy to see a relationship to Prey Drive- after all, the dog has to find and catch prey to eat, doesn’t he?

Food Drive is probably the most commonly used in all training. It can be built to a useful level in most dogs. The dogs with true high food drive have an obsession for food that is not related to hunger; these dogs do not need to be coerced or have food withheld in order to work long and hard for food. Most dogs can show a useful level of food drive for training if regular meals are adjusted so that the dog is actually physically hungry.

Play Drive is the dog’s desire to actively entertain himself. Obviously related to prey drive, Play Drive is usually put to use in training with a retrieve in some form. Many dogs can be built up to have useful levels of Play Drive, using some special toy- some dogs are more attracted to fuzzies, some to squeakys, some to a ball or kong (with many putting it on a rope helps), some to a tug toy (which also incites some fight drive). The dog with true high Play Drive is obsessed with ANY object that might be a toy- a pop can, a rock, etc.

Does Play Drive figure into the Standard? Watchful? Energetic? Alert?

Could the dog that retrieves naturally be considered obedient?

Prey Drive is basically the level of intensity the dog exhibits in the pursuit of anything moving- the desire to catch, bite and carry it. Prey Drive also is at least present in most dogs, and can be made into a useable drive in many cases. This is the drive used in beginning a sport dog (protection sports); the dog will chase, catch and bite a moving rag or tug. 

What does Prey Drive suggest? Alert? Watchful?

Does “level of intensity” suggest perhaps Determined? Possibly even Fearless?

Fight Drive is how strongly the dog wants to initiate confrontation and his persistence in physical and/or mental confrontations (fights).  Fight Drive is present in some dogs; in many it is not present in a recognizable form. For most training outside protection, Fight Drive is not used except to a minor degree in those dogs who really enjoy a good tug of war game with some body contact (linked with Play/Prey Drives) Many sport trainers believe Fight Drive to be a combination of Prey and Defence Drives.

Does Fight Drive include Determined? Fearless? 

Pack Drive is the dogs desire to work with and for the pack leader — compliance. Pack Drive is exhibited by most dogs and is often referred to as the desire to please the handler. 

What do you think about Pack Drive? Loyal? Obedient? 

Are these traits important? Think about a Doberman without these traits.

Lesser and related drives most often referred to are Hunt Drive (to pursue and follow moving objects), Tracking Drive (the desire to follow scent along the ground), Retrieve Drive (the desire to return to the leader with objects) and Activity Drive (desire to move and act)

You would sometimes think that the higher the drive, the easier the dog would be to train. Not always true. A dog who is truly obsessed with food can become so intent on the food that he loses focus and learns nothing. If a dog has high enough drives, the good drives may override much insecurity in that dog. Dogs with lower drive levels may not be able to overcome any environmental stress. Often we see dogs that are chow hounds at home, turn up their nose at liver when under any pressure. Many dogs that will tug and retrieve at home have no interest in those activities in unfamiliar locations.

As in so many things, the key is balance. However, without high drives, the dog cannot reach the highest levels of performance.